The question ?What makes us who we are?? has perplexed many scholars, scientists, and theorists over the years. This is a question that we still may have not found an answer to. There are theories that people are born ?good?, ?evil?, and as ?blank slates?, but it is hard to prove any of these theories consistently. There have been countless cases of people who have grown up in ?good? homes with loving parents, yet their destiny was to inflict destruction on others. On the other hand, there have been just as many cases of people who grew up on the streets without the guidance of a parental figure, but they chose to make a bad situation into a good one by growing up to do something worthwhile for mankind. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to determine what makes a human being choose the way he/she behaves. Mary Shelley (1797-1851) published a novel in 1818 to voice her opinions about determining personality and the consequences and repercussions of alienation. Shelley uses the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau to make her point. Rousseau proposed the idea that man is essentially “good” in the beginning of life, but civilization and education can corrupt and warp a human mind and soul. In Mary Shelley?s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (hereafter referred to as Frankenstein), Victor Frankenstein?s creature with human characteristics shows us that people are born with loving, caring, and moral feelings, but the creature demonstrates how the influence of society can change one?s outlook of others and life itself by his reactions to adversity at ?birth?, and his actions after being alienated and rejected by humans several times.
In the first chapters of the book, Shelley describes a scientist who was obsessed with “doing something great” for mankind. Victor Frankenstein, an educated man of science, was completely involved with his work, which happened to be the creation of another living being with human qualities. Once Victor?s work was finally completed, he realized that he had created a ?monster?, and he was terrified. Mary Shelley, supporting Rousseau’s theory, definitely believed that people are born essentially with good intentions and feelings, and she shows this from the first few moments of the creature?s life. When Victor was lying terrified in his bed, the creature came in and ?One hand was stretched out? (Shelley 40) towards Victor. Victor, in his petrified state, thought that the creature was trying to detain him, but in fact, the creature was reaching out to Victor as to offer friendship.
Shelley continues to show how the creature was a tender, caring being for quite a while. After Victor rejected the affection and friendship offered him by his creation, completely abandoning him, the creature left Victor and went out into the world. He soon discovered that the world would not be a friendly place. Persecution, alienation, and affliction would eventually drive the creature into doing terrible things. Sir Walter Scott, a famous Scottish novelist, said: This monster, who was at first…but a harmless monster, becomes ferocious and malignant, in consequence of finding all his approaches to human society repelled with injurious violence and offensive marks of disgust. (Scott 617)
The first person who had seen the creature, other than Victor, ?Shrieked loudly? (Shelley 83) when he looked upon his ugly and massive frame. This was a reaction the creature got used to, and he decided he would be better off to stay out of the paths of humans. When he found the hovel near the cottage he watched over for many months, the creature still was a loving, gentile being, despite the few nasty run-ins with humans. His sincitivity showed when he marveled at nature, and cried at some of the depressing stories from ancient civilizations. His tender and caring heart showed when he looked over the family, gathered firewood for them, and cleared snow from the path for them during the winter months.. He had educated himself through this time, and he was trying to get up the courage to show himself to the family that he loved. All of the creature?s actions throughout the time watching over the De Lacy?s shows his pure heart and good intentions. We are shown by the creature?s actions as a ?young? being that he was innately good, thus confirming the theory posed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Mary Shelley makes it clearly shown that a person is born with a good heart and soul, but a person?s outlook on life can change dramatically by the influence of others and the pursuance of knowledge. When the creature finally gets the nerve to confront the old De Lacy, hoping to be accepted by the old man and eventually by his family, he is violently rejected by the old man?s son, sending the creature into an endless rage. The young De Lacy son was unable to see past the creature’s appearance, so he reacted with violence. Anne K. Mellor, author of, Mary Shelley – Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, says:
Because the mind is more likely to respond to the unknown with fear and hostility than with love and acceptance, an unfettered imagination is more likely to construct evil than good. (136)
The creature was outraged by the rejection, and he cursed his creator, Victor Frankenstein, for putting him on the earth to endure such misery. The creature says, ?Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? (Shelley 110)? This rejection by the De Lacy family was the final straw for the creature to hold back his rage. He decided that he hated his creator so passionately, and he would revenge his physical and emotional wounds by destroying Victor’s life. The creature says, ?I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you (Victor) my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred? (Shelley 119). The creature was no longer a loving being towards mankind.
The turning point in the creature?s attitude towards life can most definitely be contributed to the persecution he endured from others. Victor, his creator, had fled with fear and disgust when the creature first drew breath and tried to offer his hand in friendship to Victor. The other humans who had seen the creature shrieked in pure terror because of the outward appearance he had. When he was rejected by the De Lacy family, the creature?s hope of finding love and belonging by mankind was permanently destroyed. If people would have only given him a chance to speak, he may have dazzled them with his intellect, or he may have charmed them with his wit. But, the creature calls himself miserable, because he is alone in the world and hated by all others. He says, ?I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? (Shelley 119)? The creature decides to make Victor pay the price for creating such a ?miserable? being, so he begins by killing Victor?s youngest brother. The creature frames a family friend of the Frankenstein?s, and Justine dies, although innocent, for the murder of William Frankenstein. The creature catches up with Victor to proposition him to create a female creature to be his partner for life. When Victor eventually decides not to create the female companion for his first creation, the creature is outraged, and the creature says to Victor, ?I will be with you on your wedding night? (Shelley 141). This terrifies Victor, but he did not know exactly what the creature meant. The creature’s hatred and murderous rampage was brought on by being socially outcast by others. The creature had gone through unimaginable anguish, and his heart had turned from one filled with love to one filled with hatred. The creature killed Victor?s best friend, Clerval, and he met Victor on his wedding night to kill Elisabeth, Victor?s bride.
Shelley makes her point well that one is born essentially good, but can be turned to evil by society?s narrow-minded view of what is normal, and the corruption of the mind through knowledge and education. The repercussions of Victor?s and others alienation of the creature turned a caring individual to an evil one. Shelley succeeds in bringing Rousseau’s theory to life, that one is born good, but he can be turned to evil through civilization and education. This story still has a great meaning for us today. Millions of people are outcast by society, not only because of physical appearance, but also because of sexual orientation, social status, and religion. Once people quit looking so narrow-mindedly at one another, the world will be a much better place, and Frankenstein’s “monster” will rest in peace!
Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley – Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York, New
York: Routledge, Chapman, & Hall, Inc., 1989. p 136.
Scott, Sir Walter. “Remarks on Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus; A Novel.”
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 1 April 1818. 26 April 2001.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus – 1818 Text. Ed. Marilyn Butler.
New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.